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Q&A with Mukilteo City Administrator Steve Powers regarding City Council’s political affiliation allegations

MUKILTEO, Wash., March 9, 2022 – The following is a question-and-answer exchange between the Lynnwood Times staff and Mukilteo’s City Administrator Steve Powers regarding the conclusion the City reached following the allegations by former City Council vacancy candidate Ashvin Sanghvi that Councilmen Louis Harris and Riaz Khan asked him to declare his political affiliation during a private meeting in December 2021.

During a Jan. 18 City Council Special Meeting, then vacancy candidate Ashvin Sanghvi relayed to council members that he had met with the two councilmen privately in December 2021, in relation to his candidacy and that they asked him to declare his political affiliation.

At the beginning of the Feb. 7 City Council meeting, an email from a Mukilteo resident was read into the City’s record by City Administrator Steve Powers. The email suggested that if Sanghvi’s allegations were substantiated, the councilmen were in violation of Washington State laws RCW 29A.52.231 and 29A.84.720.

During the Feb. 22 City Council meeting, the City concluded that additional action was not warranted because the Washington State laws that the resident suggested might have been violated only applied to elections, not appointment processes.

(For the full context behind the allegations, the city’s conclusion, and statements from Sanghvi and Councilman Harris, click here).

1. Could you give a brief statement on the conclusion reached by the city regarding Mukilteo Councilmen allegedly speaking with a council vacancy candidate about political affiliations? (Please include how or why the conclusion was reached)

As I noted at the February 22, 2022 City Council meeting, “The City received a public comment email that was read into the record at the February 7th City Council meeting. That comment alleged that two City Council members violated election law when they met with an applicant, seeking to fill the vacant City Council position, and during the meeting the applicant’s political party affiliation was discussed. The City has reviewed the circumstances surrounding this topic and is satisfied that additional action by the City is not warranted.”  

We looked into this matter in a way we thought reasonable, by reviewing the obligations of the Council and speaking with the involved Council members.  We also of course reviewed the allegation itself but did not find that the allegation was supported by the facts.  Notably, the citizen comment cited to RCW 29A.84.720, which pertains to the actions of election officials in the performance of their duties related to conducting elections.  The process used to fill the vacant City Council seat was not an election; it was an appointment process and is governed by RCW 42.12.070.  This law provides, in part, that where one position is vacant, the remaining members of the governing body shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacant position. So this is an appointment process, not an election.

In summary, we reviewed the obligations of the Council, talked with the involved Council members, and determined there were no violations.

2. In the city’s conclusion as reported by Mukilteo Beacon, you explain that both the RCW’s cited by a resident dealt exclusively with elections and not with appointment processes. In RCW 29A.52.231 it reads, “All city, town, and special purpose district elective offices shall be nonpartisan and the candidates therefore shall be nominated and elected as such.” Given the allegations of City Councilmen asking a vacancy candidate to declare their political affiliation, can the city assure Mukilteo residents that its offices and the nomination processes thereof are still non-partisan in nature?

The City’s process to fill vacant City Council positions does not ask a candidate to declare their political affiliation.  The application does not ask for an individual’s party affiliation.  I think it is important to point out that the nomination of candidates is not part of this process.  The City simply advertises that we are accepting applications for the vacant council seat.  All submitted applications start the appointment process.

3. Could you comment on why no one from the city reached out to Ashvin Sanghvi during its review of the circumstances surrounding the allegations?

We took the on-the-record comments of Mr. Sanghvi during the January 18, 2022 City Council meeting at face value.  Our focus was on determining what the Councilmember may have said.

4. Lastly, for a point of clarification, while the city found that no further action was warranted in this instance, was the city able to verify if the councilmen in question did or did not ask former vacancy candidate Sanghvi to declare his political affiliation during the private meeting in December 2021 between the three of them?

I can confirm that the topic of party affiliation was discussed.

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